How many books did you read, or have read to you, as a child that started like that? As a child when you open a book that says that, you know in the end that it’s all going to work out and be okay. Ten minutes later not only would everything be okay gain, but it would be better than ever.
We don’t often get stories that start out with “once upon a time” in the Bible. But we do today. The book of Job starts with these words: There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. In other words…once upon a time. But this isn’t a fairy tale.
You probably know who Job was. Even if you don’t know much about the Bible, you’ve heard about it. Job was the guy who got a bad break. He was a good guy who had a lot of bad things happen to him. And now if a friend is going through a hard time, we might even say something like, “they’re a regular Job”. He’s our symbol of bad things happening to good people.
At the beginning of the story Job is a happy man, and a wealthy man. He has sheep, oxen, camels, everything. But more than that, he is blessed with a family. He has ten children. And they all like each other. They even share meals together.
And Job is good. He loves God. He does justice. He is righteous. Everything he has, he has gotten the right way.
But then the bad things start to happen. His wealth is destroyed, and he loses all his material goods. Even worse, while his ten kids are eating dinner together one night, their house falls in on the family. And he loses all of them. He mourns them mightily, but he refuses to turn away from God.
But not long after that, he loses his health too. He becomes covered with terrible sores from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. After everything else, the pain is so terrible, and finally his wife tells him “curse God and die”. And what she was really saying was “give up on God…and life”.
But Job says no. He won’t curse God. And instead Job, covered with sores, goes out and sits on a heap of ashes. And his three friends come, and sit with him. And for seven days they just sit them and mourn with him and keep silent. And then they open their mouth. And that’s their first mistake.
Job’s three friends were named Eliphaz, Bildar, and Zophar. We all know Eliphaz, Bildar, and Zophars. Not in name…but every other way. You may have heard the phrase “Job’s comforters” These are the folks who try to say something to make things better when something bad happens, but they really just make it worse.
Have you ever had one of those friends? I saw these folks a lot when I was a chaplain in a children’s hospital. They’d come in and try to comfort the parents of sick kids, and usually they said things only made themselves feel better. And I always waned to say to them, “Just, please…stop talking…”
But of course they didn’t. And neither did Eliphaz, Bildar, and Zophar. Job tells them that he wants to die. He says, “I wish I was never born” And their response is not to comfort him, but to try to make sense out of what happened.
Eliphaz goes first. He tells Job, “you must have committed some horrible sin for this to be happening. Then Bildad adds his thoughts. “You may not have sinned, but your children surely did.” Finally, Zophar chimes in: “You must have done something horrible, and really you deserve much worse than this, so be thankful.”
None of this sits well with Job. He grows angry and tells them they have no idea what they are talking about. He calls them “worthless physicians” and tells them they are clueless. But they still don’t stop. They go back and forth, again and again, the friends saying uncomfortable things, and Job growing angrier. And every time Job asks, “why isn’t God helping me”, the friends say something even worse.
Have you ever had a situation like that? Something hard has happened in your life and you’ve needed the support of your friends, but instead you got these sort of unhelpful explanations?
Sometimes I think this is why we don’t bring the hardest parts of our life back into the life of the church. We’re afraid that people are going to try to ascribe blame, or tell us what we are doing wrong, or judge us for it. We’re afraid we will run into Job’s comforters…well meaning people who just make us feel worse.
What are the things we aren’t talking about because of that? Because we’re worried others won’t understand or will somehow judge? Depression, infertility, addiction, divorce, post-traumatic stress, mental illness, abuse, suicide, financial problems, family fights?
You should be able to bring those things to church without fear of judgements. Without Job’s comforters. You should be able to bring what is going on in your life to this place, and feel like you will be surrounded with love. I know that’s hard though. When people come to talk to me, they often tell me about something going on in their life and they feel like they are the only one in the world going through it. And what I always want to tell them is that they’re not. Because often their are five other people in the parish going through the exact same things.
We can be the sort of place that you can bring those things. And we can be the place that helps you to do what Job does next. When Job has had enough of the arguing, enough of the blame, something happens. He begins a conversation with God.
That’s important. When things are going wrong in our lives, when nothing makes sense, sometimes we lose that connection to something greater than ourselves. We feel guilty or ashamed, or we hear the words of the Job’s comforters around us, and we stop talking to others about is going on in our lives. And then, we stop talking to God.
And, I think sometimes when things are really bad, we want to talk to God. But we’re just afraid of what we will say.
Have you ever been really mad at God? Have you ever wanted to demand answers? Have you ever been so angry that you wanted to shout out “don’t you see what is happening here?” And then, when you’ve done that, have you felt even more guilty about that?
If you’ve ever felt abandoned by God, you’re not alone. If Jesus himself, who was fully God but also fully human, could shout out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me” on the cross, then what makes us think that we are immune to that kind of despair? And yet, even though Jesus did it, we feel like we shouldn’t.
But here’s the good news…God can take it.
Job turns to God and they begin to talk. And they have a long dialogue back in forth. Does Job get all the answers? No. But he talks honestly to God and he gets that relationship back. And he shows us that being faithfully vocal is better than being silent and losing the connection with God.
When we are going through the roughest times of our lives, that’s when that relationship matters more than ever. Even when we are afraid of what we will say. Even when we are hearing unhelpful words from the world around us. Even when nothing makes sense. That’s when we need it more than ever.
Job needed that. And in the end, though he never got all the answers he wanted, he got the ones he needed. And he got that connection to God back. And in the end, God even had some words for those friends Eliphaz, Bildar, and Zophar. God tells them that they didn’t get it right, and that not only had they hurt Job, but they had offended God. (And, just a side note…is there anyone in your life you wish God would say that to?)
The story ends with us being told that Job got back all the material things he had lost, and then some. He also became father to ten new children. Now, if this was a fairy tale, we would say “happily ever after…” But, I’ll bet he never forgot those ten kids he lost. How can you?
We all lose what we value in life, and God knows that. God mourns with us. And even as God continues to bless us, God knows our pain. If God knew Job’s surely God knows our own.
What is so telling to me, though, is that God continues to bless us even in our pain. God continues to be with us even when we hurt the most. And God refuses to bless the words of false and easy judgement from the world around us. God is inviting you into that relationship. If you are in pain, if there is something that is going on in your life that you cannot bear, if you feel alone…you don’t have to.
Start with God…and know that this place can sit with you in all of that too. There is nothing you cannot bring to God. And there is nothing you cannot bring here. We may not have all the answers for you here, but we can sit with you in the questions. We can keep silence when you just need someone beside you. And we can listen when you need an ear. And one day, maybe you can do that for someone else.
Once upon a time there was a was a man named Job. And once upon a time, there was all of us…living in a broken world, living in a sometimes painful world, but living in a community where we could support one another as we to turn to God in our hardest times. Amen.